Why I Like to Travel (It’s Not What You Think)

I really do like every part of the journey: wheels up, wheels down, the exhausting take-it-all-in walk from the public transit stop to the hotel lobby.

But it is that moment when I don’t know — how I’m going to find Sutter Street, where to eat, how to get back to the airport in time — that’s truly exhilarating.

The reason I like to travel is that travel allows me to fail — and fail spectacularly. Often without consequence. I have no way of knowing local norms, so of course I will make a mistake. And admitting it is how I learn something new.

I called it “San Fran” and a local corrected me? Now I know locals don’t call it that.

I’ve just spent ten minutes walking the wrong way? Now I know a new street, a new cafe on the way — and I’ve even had my cardinal directions re-calibrated.

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” ~ Thomas Edison

Embarrassing yourself while traveling is at once inevitable and nearly impossible. We all laugh at the “ugly American” who wanders through Europe in flip-flops, socks, and a sun hat. (Trust me, they exist.) And yet, there is something to be envied in their honesty. They know they will stick out anyway, so why not admit it? (That scarf you just bought helps you blend in, but those “matching” Nike sneakers don’t.)

Travel strips you completely bare, which is at once threatening and tantalizing. You are challenged not (necessarily) by your new surroundings but by yourself — by your inability to do everything right; by your own perceptions; by your willingness to meet new people, eat new foods, see new things.

You get to experience life anew. And in that experience you get to feel what it feels like to be your true self.

Like a favorite song, travel tells you something about who you really are, and once you’ve heard that melody, it’s hard to shake from your memory.

Travel shows you what keeps you going past the mini-failures of everyday life in a new environment. For me, it’s learning that keeps me going: learning new facts, new quirks, new cultures, new customs — and how they all paint a simultaneously big and microcosmic picture of what it means to be human.

This is why I like to travel. I like to learn — and learning about myself has the added benefit of being a lesson I didn’t know I could learn.

And, like any lesson worth learning, it makes good use of failure to make a good point.